Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton

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Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton (May 25, 1803January 18, 1873) was an English novelist, playwright, and politician.

He was the youngest son of General William Earle Bulwer of Heydon Hall and Wood Balling, and Elizabeth Barbara Lytton, daughter of Richard Warburton Lytton of Knebworth, Hertfordshire. He had two brothers, William (1799-1877) and Henry (1801-1872), afterwards Lord Dalling.

Contents

Life

Bulwer's father died when he was four years old, after which his mother moved to London. A delicate and neurotic, but precocious, child, he was sent to various boarding schools, where he was always discontented until a Mr Wallington at Baling encouraged him to publish, at the age of fifteen, an immature work, Ishmael and other Poems.

In 1822 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, but moved shortly afterwards to Trinity Hall, and in 1825 won the Chancellor's medal for English verse. In the following year he took his B.A. degree and printed for private circulation a small volume of poems, Weeds and Wild Flowers. He purchased a commission in the army, but sold it again without serving, and in August 1827 married, in opposition to his mother's wishes, Rosina Doyle Wheeler (1802-1882). Upon their marriage, Bulwer's mother withdrew his allowance, and he was forced to set to work seriously.

His writing and his efforts in the political arena took a toll upon his marriage to Rosina, and they were legally separated in 1836. Three years later, she published a novel called Cizeveley, or the Man of Honour, in which Bulwer was bitterly caricatured. In June 1858, when her husband was standing as parliamentary candidate for Hertfordshire, she appeared at the hustings and indignantly denounced him. She was consequently placed under restraint as insane, but liberated a few weeks later. This was chronicled in her book A Blighted Life. For years she continued her attacks upon her husband's character; she would outlive him by nine years.

Political career

Bulwer began his career as a follower of Jeremy Bentham. In 1831 he was elected member for St Ives in Huntingdon, after which he was returned for Lincoln in 1832, and sat in parliament for that city for nine years.

He spoke in favour of the Reform Bill, and took the leading part in securing the reduction, after vainly essaying the repeal, of the newspaper stamp duties.

His influence was perhaps most keenly felt when, on the Whigs' dismissal from office in 1834, he issued a pamphlet entitled A Letter to a Late Cabinet Minister on the Crisis. Lord Melbourne, then Prime Minister, offered him a lordship of the admiralty, which he declined as likely to interfere with his activity as an author.

In 1838 Bulwer, then at the height of his popularity, was created a baronet, and on succeeding to the Knebworth estate in 1843 added Lytton to his surname, under the terms of his mother's will. In 1845, he left Parliament and spent some years in continental travel, reentering the political field in 1852; this time, having differed from the policy of Lord John Russell over the Corn Laws, he stood for Hertfordshire as a Conservative. Bulwer held that seat till 1866, when he was raised to the peerage as Baron Lytton of Knebworth. In 1858 he was appointed secretary for the colonies. In the House of Lords he was comparatively inactive.

Literary career

Bulwer-Lytton's literary career began in 1820, with the publication of his first book of poems, and spanned much of the nineteenth century. He wrote in a variety of genres, including historical fiction, mystery, romance, the occult and science fiction.

In 1828 he attracted general attention with Pelham, an intimate study of the dandyism of the age that kept gossips busy in identifying the characters with the leading men of the time. By 1833, he had reached the height of his popularity with Godolphin, followed by The Pilgrims of the Rhine (1834), The Last Days of Pompeii (1834), Rienzi (1835), and Last of the Saxon Kings (1848).

He penned many other works, including Vril: The Power of the Coming Race, which drew heavily on his interest in the occult and contributed to the birth of the science fiction genre. Some believe the book helped to inspire Nazi mysticism.

Legacy

Although he was popular in his day (and was a fine Victorian stylist), Bulwer-Lytton's prose strikes many contemporary readers as anachronistic and overly embellished.

His name lives on in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which contestants have to supply the openings of terrible (imaginary) novels, inspired by his novel Paul Clifford, which opens with the famous words,

"It was a dark and stormy night"

or to give the sentence in its full glory:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

The shorter form of the opening sentence was popularized by the Peanuts comic strip. Snoopy's sessions with the typewriter usually began with it. Entrants in the contest seek to capture the rapid changes in point of view, the florid language, and the atmosphere of the full sentence.

Bulwer-Lytton's most famous respected turn of phrase is "the pen is mightier than the sword," although its original quote is led with the phrase "Beneath the rule of men entirely great," in the play Richlieu. His 1871 novel, The Coming Race, has been read by some as presaging Nazi mysticism. Unquestionably, its story of a subterranean race of men waiting to reclaim the surface is one of the first science fiction novels. Such controversy aside, it gave us the memorable phrase "pursuit of the almighty dollar." Finally, he is widely credited for "the great unwashed." Unfortunately, many citations claim The Last Days of Pompeii as the original source, and perusal of the original work indicates that this is not the case.

Several of his novels were made into operas, one of which (Rienzi, by Richard Wagner) eventually became considerably more famous than the novel on which it was based. Another of Bulwer-Lytton's novels, The Lady of Lyons, was made into an opera by Henry Fry (Leonora); this was the first opera composed in the United States.

In 1831 Bulwer-Lytton undertook the editorship of the New Monthly, but resigned in the following year. In 1841, he started the Monthly Chronicle, a semi-scientific magazine. During his career he wrote poetry, prose, and stage plays; his last novel was Kenelm Chillingly, which was in course of publication in Blackwoods Magazine at the time of his death in 1873.

Further reading

  • T. H. S. Escott, Edward Bulwer, 1st Baron Lytton of Knebworth (1910).

External links

  • Edward Bulwer-Lytton Books (http://www.edward-bulwer-lytton.org/)
  • Nearly all of Lord Lytton's works are available at Project Gutenberg as e-texts; some of them you can find here: [1] (http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/author?name=Bulwer-Lytton,%20Edward)
  • Dickens or Bulwer-Lytton? (http://reverent.org/bulwer-dickens.html) Take this quiz to see if you can tell the difference between their prose.


Preceded by:
The Lord Stanley
Secretary of State for the Colonies
1858–1859
Succeeded by:
The Duke of Newcastle

Template:End box

Preceded by:
New Creation
Baron Lytton Succeeded by:
Robert Bulwer-Lytton
de:Edward Bulwer-Lytton

eo:Edward George BULWER-LYTTON ja:エドワード・ジョージ・ブルワー・リットン

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